A brief introduction to digital printed fabric

Despite being a relatively new technology, digital printing already has a number of interesting applications and it’s a process we can all expect to see in use more frequently this year.

At present, many commercially available fabrics are currently rotary screen printed. However, this process is costly due to the time it takes to prepare the screens, as each colour requires its own separate screen. Digital fabric has a distinct advantage over this method and facilitates the printing of smaller runs, as there are no screens to prepare.

The very same technology used in inkjet printing is included in digital fabric printing, with specially formulated inks used dependent on the type of fabric (for example, inks which work well on cotton won’t work as effectively on nylon and vice-versa).

Process and design

The printing process involves feeding fabric through rollers in much the same way a sheet of paper is fed through a home desktop printer. Tiny ink droplets are applied to the fabric, which is then typically treated with steam or heat.

The beauty of digital fabric printing is that designs can be created with virtually any graphic design software package. Photographs or existing patterns can also be easily scanned, manipulated and edited.

Things to consider when creating patterns

Colour

Be aware that colours on a screen will generally appear deeper when printed on to fabric and large areas of printed colour may feature tonal shifts.

Copyright

Avoid recreating existing prints for commercial purposes, as you could be breaking copyright laws.

Finish

Certain fabrics will affect the finish of a print – for example, silk has light-reflecting properties which will make print appear lighter.